Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hedgie's Must Reads: July 2013

t's that time of the month again! The beginning of the end of summer! Normally, I'm very sad about that prospect, but not so much this time. I have too much to look forward to in the fall! Movies, books - and Season 3 of BBC's Sherlock!! While July was a great month, with a fun Independence Day, it wasn't as good of a month as June, when it comes to books. Still, I had some really awesome one!

The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni (5/5)
A young girl returning to her childhood rural home. An arranged marriage that may not be as wonderful as she expected. A town full of secrets. And two mysterious caged graves, surrounded by rumors of buried treasure and witchcraft. Welcome to 1867 Catawissa, Pennsylvania. It isn't what Verity Boone was expecting. But she's determined to make the best of it - and to solve the mystery behind her mother's caged grave. I fell in love with these characters and was hooked to the intriguing mystery. I didn't know if it would turn supernatural or have a perfectly normal explanation. One of the best books of the year. Girl-read, fourteen-and-up, great for historical fiction and mystery fans!

Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan (4/5)
The first book in a series, Maid of Secrets introduces Readers to cunning and light-fingered Meg - an Elizabeth-era thief who is recruited by the Queen's trusted adviser to become one of her Maids of Honor. These girls are the Queen's spies, each of them with their own special talents and cunning. Meg doesn't want to be there, but when the arrival of the Spanish at court reveals a plot that may threaten not only the Queen's life, but the lives of her fellow Maids of Honor as well, Meg finds herself entangled in a web of intrigue. Meg is a wonderfully capable and pretty sensible young woman with no Attitude. The romance is a bit annoying, but the overall plot overshadows it. Girl-read, sixteen-and-up, great for historical fiction and His Fair Assassin fans.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (5/5)
It is 1941, and the Soviets have invaded Lithuania. They are rounding up people who have been deemed anti-Soviet and shipping them to communal farms in frozen Sibera. Lina, her mother, and her younger brother are among them, while her father is somewhere in a prison. Based off of true survivalist accounts, Between Shades of Gray is a moving story of hardship and the resilience of the human spirit. It is a story that begs Readers to find out about this little-known part of history - of the thousands of people Stalin systematically starved and murdered - and it will leave you both uplifted and devastated. Mostly a girl-read, great for teens and adults alike, fans of historical fiction and moving stories.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday #5

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish 

This week's topic: Top Ten Favorite Beginnings/Endings in Books. I've divided the two, so I have listed my top 5 favorite beginnings, and my top 5 favorite ends.

Top Five Favorite Beginnings:

"I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin." Other than the fact that this book starts out with Kat Stephenson trying to run away disguised as a boy, I just adore these opening lines. It introduces the Reader to Kat as a character so well, and they are very memorable.

"It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die." Another really memorable and attention-grabbing beginning phrase. But the whole beginning itself - when Sean Kendrick is a boy and witnessing his father's death during a Scorpio Race - is a terrific setup for the story's tone, Sean's world, and even Sean's character. It told me everything I needed to know about this book.

Entwined doesn't have a very memorable opening phrase, but I found Azalea anticipating her first ball to be intriguing; I wanted to know how it would go for her. And then, of course, her mother dies, and that leads into everything else, and I just couldn't stop reading at that point.

The world of Near is introduced with Lexi telling her sister Wren a bedtime story about the wind calling to children, beckonening them outside, and of a powerful witch who was once in the village. The opening is haunting, spooky, intriguing, and makes you feel just like a kid again in the middle of a windy winter night, with candles burning and a quiet voice calling you to come outside. With such a beginning, I had to finish the book.

"I would very much like to know why my mother named me 'Enola,' which, backwards, spells alone." This is the beginning of Chapter One. But I was hooked by the Prologue, which begins with a veiled woman in the dark streets of the East End of London in 1888. It promises mystery, maybe a murder, but mostly mystery. And of course, once Enola is introduced, I, too, wanted to find out why her mother named her that. And when her mother goes missing, I wanted to know more, and when it's revealed the Enola is Sherlock Holmes' sister - well, there was no stopping me from finishing this book.

Top Five Favorite Endings:

The climax of Ranger's Apprentice actually had me on the edge of my seat. Would the Kalkara kill Halt? Would Will continue his Ranger training? But mostly, would Halt be killed? I didn't know; I could have seen it going in either direction. And the direction it did take I liked very much.

In truth, I liked everything in this book. The beginning, the middle, and the end. But I really loved the end. It had a ton of surprises and a great setup for the sequel, and was overall satisfying. I just loved it.

Everyone knows what happens at the ball when Cinderella goes there. So the twists that this particular Cinderella ball had were really awesome. It made the story more exciting, more of a - well, a story, and it set up the sequel very nicely. There were some awesome revelations, I loved the twist on the glass slipper, and it made me want to keep reading.

I loved the beginning and middle as much as the end, but since we're talking about favorite ends, and not middles or beginnings, that is beside the point. The end was a bit abrupt, but it worked and the climax was amazing. Full of twists and revelations, I cannot wait until the sequel!

Yet again, a great climax! With twists and revelations - and of course, the promise of a sequel that I at first wasn't pleased about, but then decided that okay, it was awesome.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Review: One Came Home - Amy Timberlake

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake
Genre: Middle Grade, historical fiction, mystery
Published on January 8, 2013
Published by Knopf Books
Pages: 272
Read From: 7.21.13 - 7.28.13

In the town of Placid, Wisconsin, Georgie Burkhardt is known for two things: her uncanny aim with a rifle and her habit of speaking her mind plainly. 
But when Georgie blurts out something she shouldn't, her older sister Agatha flees, running off with a pack of "pigeoners" trailing the passenger pigeon migration. And when the sheriff returns to town with an unidentifiable body - wearing Agatha's blue-green ball gown - everyone assumes the worst. 
Except Georgie. Refusing to believe the facts that are laid down (and coffined) before her, Georgie sets out on a journey to find her sister. She will track every last clue and shred of evidence to bring Agatha home. Yet even with resolute determination and her trusty Springfield single-shot, Georgie is not prepared for what she faces on the western frontier.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I do like it, because it is indicative of a historical fiction novel, which always catches my interest. The title doesn't do much for me, though the blurb does. Unfortunately, the story isn't nearly as exciting as it leads you to believe.

Characters: Georgie Burkhardt was an immediate hit with me. She was spunky, she was good with a gun, she was blunt, and she had a dry sense of humor. She had two feet that she knew how to stand on and she wasn't going to let anyone tell her how to do it. However, Georgie also seemed to be rather accident prone, to a degree that got a little annoying after a while. It was funny the first few times she fell down a hill or dismounted incorrectly. But after she falls off a pile of rocks and bangs her head really good, her clumsiness got boring and her tendency to wander off equally so, because I knew it would end with her scraping herself up even more. Billy McCabe took a little longer for me to warm up to; he was condescending toward Georgie, constantly treating her like a child. But in the end, I grew to appreciate his older brother affection for Georgie and his acknowledging that she really did know how to take care of herself - in certain situations. The other characters, while not cardboard, weren't in the book enough for me to form much of an opinion or attachment for.

The Romance: There isn't any! Not really. Georgie develops a bit of a kid crush on Billy, which I did find just the slightest bit annoying, but it doesn't get in the way all that much.

Plot: Everyone knows that Agatha Burkhardt will marry Billy McCabe someday. Their family are close friends and Billy hasn't hid his feelings for Agatha very well. But when Agatha takes up with Mr. Olmstead, the local hotel manager and Placid's richest man, some are a bit surprised. Georgie doesn't believe it's over between Agatha and Billy, and when she witnesses the two kissing one night, Georgie finds it her duty to inform Mr. Olmstead. The results are disastrous. Agatha runs off with a group of pigeoners tracking the passenger pigeon migration. Not long after, a body is found and identified as Agatha based on the blue-green dress she's wearing. But Georgie isn't convinced. The body has been so badly mutilated by wild animals that it could be anyone. Determined to prove that her sister is still alive, Georgie sets off to Dog Hollow, where Agatha was last seen, to discover the truth. Is Agatha still alive? If so, where is she? And if not, who killed her? And why? Sounds like an exciting murder mystery, right? Wrong. The Author has a lot of good build-up, as she relates the events leading up to Agatha's disappearance. And she tells them in such a way that casts a misleading ambiance of menace and suspicion. There is a bit of mystery to Agatha's true fate, but it isn't anything all that terribly earth-shattering. Georgie's journey to Dog Hollow becomes a road trip through 1871 Wisconsin, which is all well and good - I enjoy reading about places in a historical setting. But I was anticipating a murder mystery, and it didn't deliver. Right when you think Georgie is going to find something amazing, it doesn't happen and she breaks down into more sobbing. Not that I can blame her; she was so convinced that her sister wasn't dead and her investigation isn't doing much to prove her right. But murder mysteries aren't supposed to be a coming-of-age story where Georgie is forced to grow up through the brutal realization that maybe she's lost Agatha for good after all. Maybe it an attempt to make up for the rather disappointing mystery, the Author throws in a plot twist involving counterfeiters, but quite honestly it didn't do it for me.

Believability: No complaints here.

Writing Style: First person, past tense. Georgie's narration is funny. We get her dry sense of humor and heartache and blunt personality and sheer determination pouring off the pages and filling the Reader to the point to where one can totally empathize with her. Where the story's plot flopped a bit, it totally wins in terms of emotion. At times, the narration was a bit hard to follow. When Georgie is telling the Reader about the events that led up to Agatha's disappearance, she doesn't always tell them in a straight order, and it makes it difficult to know what came first. Sometimes this can help - events don't always have to be told in order. But in this case, it didn't. Still, that doesn't take away the fact that Georgie's narration is full of emotion that draws the Reader totally in.

Content: None.

Conclusion: There's no grand climax; not really. It takes on a more sedate, "this is what happened and nothing more" pace. Once I came to terms with the fact that this wasn't a murder mystery, but a coming-of-age, middle-grade, historical fiction I was able to enjoy One Came Home more. As a mystery, it totally disappointed. As a middle-grade historical fiction, it was relatively enjoyable. Georgie was a great protagonist; her narration very much appealed to me. But there is no denying that a plot is pretty much nonexistent. It starts out with one, but it doesn't go anywhere in the end.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, good for middle-graders and adults who like more sedate, emotionally-driven middle grade historical fiction reads.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Stacking the Shelves #8

Stacking the Shelves is a meme hosted by Tynga's Review

From the Library:

Towering by Alex Flinn
Rachel is trapped in a tower, held hostage by a woman she's always called Mama. Her golden hair is growing rapidly, and to pass the time, she watches the snow fall and sings songs from her childhood, hoping someone, anyone, will hear her.

Wyatt needs time to reflect or, better yet, forget about what happened to his best friend, Tyler. That's why he's been shipped off to the Adirondacks in the dead of winter to live with the oldest lady in town. Either that, or no one he knows ever wants to see him again.

Dani disappeared seventeen years ago without a trace, but she left behind a journal that's never been read, not even by her overbearing mother . . . until now.

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
It says quite a lot about Jeremy Johnson Johnson that the strangest thing about him isn't even the fact his mother and father both had the same last name. Jeremy once admitted he's able to hear voices, and the townspeople of Never Better have treated him like an outsider since.

After his mother left, his father became a recluse, and it's been up to Jeremy to support the family. But it hasn't been up to Jeremy alone. The truth is, Jeremy can hear voices. Or, specifically, one voice: the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of the infamous writing duo, The Brothers Grimm.

Jacob watches over Jeremy, protecting him from an unknown dark evil whispered about in the space between this world and the next. But when the provocative local girl Ginger Boultinghouse takes an interest in Jeremy (and his unique abilities), a grim chain of events is put into motion.

And as anyone familiar with the Grimm Brothers know, not all fairy tales have happy endings . . .

Friday, July 26, 2013

Review: Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on March 22, 2011
Published by Philomel
Pages: 344
Read From: 7.19.13 - 7.20.13

"Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch." 
Lithuania, June 1941 
Fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school and looking forward to summer. In the dark of night there is a knock at the door and life is forever changed. Soviet secret police arrest Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, tearing their family apart. The three are hauled from their home and thrown into cattle cars, where they soon discover their destination: Siberia. Separated from her father, Lina embeds clues in her drawings and secretly passes them along, hoping they will reach her father's prison camp. In this dramatic and moving story, Lina desperately fights for her life and the lives of those around her. But will love be enough to keep her alive?


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I'm not a huge fan of it, simply because there isn't really anything about it that catches my attention. The title definitely caught my attention, but in the wrong way. When I first saw this book, I thought it might be a YA version of Fifty Shades of Gray. World War Two didn't even enter my mind.

Characters: While there are plenty of characters that I attached to, I would definitely say that this is a fact-driven story. Lina has an innocent and caring personality, even though she struggles to love and forgive the enemy like her mother does. I never thought Lina an uncaring person. The other people who populate the story are all equally memorable - not by name, but by certain ticks or events that happen specifically to them and forever define their characters. So while like me you may struggle to recall so-and-so's actual name, you will remember the character and what made him/her memorable.

The Romance: Even amid the turmoil of being ripped from home and thrown into a brutal labor camp, Lina finds a guy to fall in love with. Enter Andrius - a young man that I immediately developed a character crush for. He looks after Lina's family in the labor camp, smuggling extra food and whatever else he can to ease their harsh new life. I even managed to forgive him ripping a few pages out of a book, though it certainly took me a while. ;-) Because Between Shades of Gray is fact-driven, not a whole lot of time is spent on the romance. It's sweet, it's inevitable, and it's the exact sort of romance that I like:  it's there, but not invasive.

Plot: The official synopsis sums the story up pretty nicely. There isn't a whole lot of a "from Point A to Point B" plot. It focuses on the sort of things persecuted Lithuanians and other victims of Soviet Communist rule endured. This isn't an escape story or even a spy story; it's a well-researched, emotional journey through one of history's most tragic and horrible events - an event many people sadly know nothing about. It explores what life was like in the labor camps and the indignities the Baltic peoples suffered. There is no central villain, no main goal (other than staying alive); it's a very linear, very personal story full of emotion.

Believability: The Author has done a lot of research, and while I did know about the awful things the Communists did the Baltic nations, there were facts the Author presented in this book that I didn't even know, though I wasn't surprised.

Writing Style: First person, past tense. The first-person narration made the story that much more emotional, that much more personal. While Lina doesn't focus too much on her own personal feelings, her blunt narration of what's going on brings a stark reality to the story. The Author portrays brutal treatment without going into excessive detail. Nor does she shy away from the facts; she states what happens in simple, blunt words, and it has an effect that no amount of gory detail would accomplish.

Content: Women being forced into pleasuring the guards at the labor camp is alluded to, but there are never any actual details.

Conclusion: With how the story was going, I anticipated a truly depressing end. And while it's not exactly roses and sunshine, it does have a positive and hopeful note. It's also very abrupt in its conclusion, but it somehow fit. Between Shades of Gray was a beautiful and brutal read. The Author doesn't sugarcoat anything, but she also populates her story with strong characters who fight as hard as they possibly can to retain their humanity and their right to live. It's heartbreaking and inspiring. It's also a real eye-opener to a forgotten bit of Communist history. Read this with tissues on hand.

Recommended Audience: Girl-and-guy read, sixteen-and-up; adults will enjoy this as much as teens, if not more. Great for historical fiction fans!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review: Spirit's Chosen - Esther Friesner

Spirit's Chosen by Esther Friesner
Series: Spirit's Princess #2
Genre: YA, historical fantasy
Published on April 23, 2013
Published by Random House
Pages: 496
Read From: 7.15.13 - 7.19.13

Himiko's world is falling apart. An attack by the Ookami clan has left many from her tribe dead or enslaved. And those who remain in the ransacked Matsu village are certain they've angered the gods. Himiko cannot give in to the chaos and fear. Instead, she devises a plan to save her beloved tribe. Tapping into all she's learned as a shaman, she also must become a leader and warrior. Then, just as it seems her plans will succeed, the Ookami capture her. 
Enslaved, Himiko starts to realize that not everyone in the enemy tribe is against her, and perhaps each step of her journey has prepared her for something greater than she ever imagined. Though she may not see her path as clearly as the spirits seem to, there's more adventure - and even unexpected love - for this unconventional princess.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Despite the character impersonator, I don't mind the cover all that much. It's a side profile and of course, it's indicative of the book's setting.

Characters: I've said this before, and sadly it hasn't changed: Himiko is not nearly as likable and awesome as Nefertiri from Sphinx's Princess and Helen from Nobody's Princess. While Himiko doesn't come across as spoilt in Spirit's Chosen, like she did in Spirit's Princess, she still seemed much younger than her actual age. And it made it very difficult to take her seriously when she tried to present an authoritative persona. That said, Himiko is brave and by the end of Spirit's Chosen, she finally seems a mature young woman (in other words, her age). But the problem is that for the majority of the story, she acts young. I tried to like Kaya, but her excessive spunk and forceful nature got old after a time. And what potential Ryu showed as a good villain were very quickly demolished when I met his mother, Lady Sato. Now, Sat was (most of the time) a nasty lady, but villains lose serious face when their mothers are constantly henpecking and insulting - or worse, belitting. Fathers can get by with this to an excent, but as soon as you introduce the villain's mean mother . . . There was also the fact that in the end, Ryu didn't conquer and enslave other clans because he was a bad dude. He did it simply because he knew no other way to help his clan thrive. So he was mean because he was ignorant . . . Kinda makes him a pathetic villain.

The Romance: Not nearly as prominent as I thought it would be, and therefore an enjoyable aspect of the story. There is a bit of a love triangle, but it's the type that I actually don't mind all that much. Rinji likes Himiko, but Himiko quite obviously doesn't like him on that manner, and never did. Her attachment to Daimu is one hundred percent, so there is no flipflopping in her affections. But of course, the romance isn't without its problems. I liked Daimu well enough; he's kind and patient and selfless - all those great qualities. And I ever liked Rinji. He was lovably awkward and shy. But the moment Himiko rejected him, I knew his was an affection that would cause problems. And really - couldn't Himiko have tried harder to tell Rinji that there was no love love between them? I realize some people just can't take a hint - at all, - but she really didn't do a good job of assuring him beyond a doubt that there was no hope of her returning his affections. And she should have never kept her feelings for Daimu hidden from Rinji. So while Himiko cannot be accused of intentionally leading Rinji on, she definitely didn't do a good job of dissuading him. And it's not like she didn't know.

Plot: The Ookami clan has destroyed Himiko's clan. Enslaving them, killing her father and oldest brother, and taking her younger one Noboru hostage, so that her people will not rebel. But Noboru's captivity has sent Himiko's mother over the edge mentally, and when she tries to kill her sister wife's son, she is sentenced to death. Himiko begs the elders to give her until harvesting season to fetch Noboru from the Ookami, whose presence will undoubtedly cure her mother's madness. Together, Himiko and her best friend Kaya set out to rescue Noboru, encountering other clans enslaved to the Ookami along the way. And then Himiko's plan goes horribly wrong when she and Kaya are captured by the enemy. The only way she can hope to survive is to rely on her shaman powers. Spirit's Princess was slow, but I enjoyed how it set up Himiko's world and relationships for the promised second book. And with Himiko undertaking a daring rescue mission in Spirit's Chosen, I just knew that the second - and final - book in this two-volumed series would not disappoint. Well . . . It did and it didn't. For the final volume in a mere two-book series, this should have been much faster paced. But it takes the same sedate path as its predecessor, and doesn't much change. Even after Himiko's clan recovers a bit and she leaves on her quest. And on further reflection, a lot of the plot aspects are the same as Spirit's Princess. Shaman training, facing down chauvinistic elders, enjoying the pristine Japanese countryside (don't get me wrong; I think Japan is gorgeous. But I've already sat through one book of it), and spirit dreams. She and Kaya also meet very few hostile and dangerous people/animals/circumstances in their travels. The few that they do (a snake, and a tagalong guy who just wants to rape Kaya and break her bowstring) play short and unimportant roles. Even when Himiko and Kaya are enslaved, they share a pleasant and friendly camaraderie with the other slaves, and Himiko isn't treated all that terribly. No more so than Cinderella, and even Cinderella sometimes went to bed hungry. It's almost like the Author was afraid of making the book too unpleasant. But don't let all my negativity put you off the book. As a sequel it disappointed; as a story separate from Spirit's Princess, it was relatively enjoyable. The plot's overall structure was good, with warring clans and slavery - and a chieftain at odds with his shaman, creating a battle for control and power.

Believability: I don't know a whole lot about ancient Japan - okay, I know nothing. So no inaccuracies stood out to me personally. However, if you happen to know a lot about Japanese history and ancient culture, this book might be to you like a badly researched Victorian novel is to me: unbelievably painful. But I don't know because I'm ignorant about Japan.

Writing Style: First person, past tense. As with all of her books, the Author's style paints beautiful and vivid pictures of the scenery and setting.

Content: None. When Kaya is almost raped, the assailant doesn't get beyond simply pinning her down.

Conclusion: When the Ookami's shaman Daimu takes a shine to Himiko, and she to him, Ryu does everything in his power to undermine Daimu. Amid this power struggle between clan shaman and clan chief, Himiko begins to receive terrible visions of death and destruction at the hands of a fearsome, fiery creature. The end is definitely eventful and the Author pulls a twist so sad that it almost makes up for the general lack of nasty people and genuinely perilous situations. Almost. Even with the sadness, the Author manages to throw in good feelings and a "in the nick of time" scenario that had me thinking, "This was more timely than Gandalf arriving with reinforcements at Helm's Deep." And that's not good. While I enjoyed the overall idea of Spirit's Chosen and the writing, this isn't my favorite Esther Friesner book - or even series. Himiko grew as a character and all that good stuff, but there is one problem: she never really demonstrated how she was the world's most powerful shaman. She never did anything beyond healing and delivering a prophecy no one obeyed. But the end was exciting, and sometimes all you need to make a book good is a satisfying conclusion.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, fourteen-and-up, good for fans of historical fantasy.

Others in This Series:
1)Spirit's Princess
2)Spirit's Chosen

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday #8

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine.
It's a weekly meme about upcoming books we're excited about!

The Falconer
(The Falconer #1)
by Elizabeth May
Publication Date: May 6, 2014

From Goodreads:

Lady Aileana Kameron can sing, paint prettily, and murder the Fae as easily as dancing a waltz. But how far is she prepared to go for vengeance?

Edinburgh, Scotland, 1844

Eighteen-year-old Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, was destined to a life carefully planned around Edinburgh's social events - right up until a faery kills her mother.

Now it's the 1844 winter season. Between a seeming endless number of parties, Aileana slaughters faeries in secret. Armed with modified percussion pistols and explosives, every night she sheds her aristocratic facade and goes hunting. She's determined to track down the faery who murdered her mother, and to destroy any who prey on humans in the city's many dark alleyways.

But she never even considered that she might become attracted to one. To the magnetic Kiaran MacKay, the faery who trained her to kill his own kind. Nor is she at all prepared for the revelation he's going to bring. Because Midwinter is approaching, and with it an eclipse that has the ability to unlock a Fae prison and begin the Wild Hunt.

As battle looms, and Aileana is going to have to decide how much she's willing to lose - and just how far she'll go to avenge her mother's murder.

(The Lynburn Legacy #2)
by Sarah Rees Brennan
Publication Date: September 24, 2013

From Goodreads:

It's time to choose sides . . . On the surface, Sorry-in-the-Vale is a sleepy English town. But Kami Glass knows the truth. Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of magic. In the old days, the Lynburn family ruled with fear, terrifying the people into submission in order to kill for blood and power. Now the Lynburns are back, and Rob Lynburn is gathering sorcerers so that the town can return to the old ways.

But Rob and his followers aren't the only sorcerers in town. A decision must be made: pay the blood sacrifice, or fight. For Kami, this means more than just choosing between good and evil. With her link to Jared Lynburn severed, she's now free to love anyone she chooses. But who should that be?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday #4

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish 

This week's topic: Top Ten Words/Topics that will make you NOT pick up a book! This is, thankfully, a fairly easy choice for me, and so here it goes!

  1. Vampires. Dracula is the only execption because he's a classic. And I love Bram Stoker's style.
  2. Teen drug/family abuse problems. Real life is depressing enough! Why would I want to read about that?
  3. Gay/lesbian couples. Unless it serves the plot's purpose to make a character gay or lesbian, and it isn't just the Author trying to preach his/her personal views, this just isn't something I care to read about.
  4. Hot guys. If this or a description akin to it appears in a synopsis, no thank you! Because "hot" and "guy" equals a truly horrendous read. "Attractive" may be used, or even "mysterious," but not "hot."
  5. Zombies. If there's zombies, I pass. Zombies just aren't my thing.
  6. Superheroes. I don't care if it's a middle grade comedy; I don't do superheroes. Even if a person insists that no, they aren't your traditional superheroes! They've been revamped and made awesome! Sorry; I will always picture grown men dressed in tights, capes, and red trunks.
  7. Fallen angels. It goes right up there with vampires. Let's face it: there isn't a fallen angel story out there that isn't a romance.
  8. New Adult. As both a genre and topic, I find the idea of new adult just downright disgusting. I have no interest in reading about intercourse.
  9. School life stories. Why would one wish to read about some poor fictional middle grader's (or high schooler's) time in school? Boring!
  10. Romance. If a book has romance in it, but that isn't the main focus, okay I'll give it a try. I've read a lot of historical fiction, mysteries, time travel, and the like that has romance in it, and I still liked the book because it wasn't the main focus. But if a book's only focus is romance, I give up.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Review: Maid of Secrets - Jennifer McGowan

Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan
Series: Maids of Honor #1
Genre: YA, historical fiction, mystery
Published on May 7, 2013
Published by Simon & Schuster
Pages: 416
Read From: 7.13.13 - 7.15.13

Orphan Meg Fellowes makes her living picking pockets - until she steals from the wrong nobleman. Instead of rotting in prison like she expects, she's whisked away to the court of Queen Elizabeth and pressed into royal service as a spy. With a fake noble identity, Meg joins four other remarkable girls in the Maids of Honor, the Queen's secret society of protectors. 
Her natural talent for spying proves useful in this time of unrest. The Spanish court is visiting, and with it come devious plots and hidden political motives. As threats to the kingdom begin to mount, Meg can't deny her growing attraction to one of the dashing Spanish courtiers. But it's hard to trust her heart in a place where royal formalities and masked balls hide the truth: Not everyone is who they appear to be. 
Meg's mission tests every talent she possesses, even her loyalty to her fellow Maids. With danger lurking around every corner, can she stay alive - and protect the crown?


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Absolutely not. While the clothes and dagger did catch my attention, everything else about the cover - namely, the character impersonator - made me cringe. Was this to be another Venom? Had I tricked myself into believing that this book would be any good? What had I gotten myself into?!

Characters: Surprisingly, my worries to put to rest fairly rapidly. I expected Meg Fellowes to be haughty, brimming with a bad attitude, and downright terrible at playing any sort of role when the need arose. But when we first meet Meg, she's putting her acting prowess to good use and proved her talents in pickpocketing. She is a reluctant recruit to Queen's Elizabeth's spy network, but she doesn't tote around an attitude because of it. Rather, Meg agrees to service for the Queen's sake, and not because William Cecil and Francis Walsingham tell her to. Meg also shows practicality and a quick wit. The other Maids of Honor were really fun to get to know as well. They each had their own distinct personalities and traits, and it was interesting to see how they all interacted with one another. Jane probably was my favorite side character, and not just because she was Welsh. Extremely skilled at assassination, she was very matter-of-fact, practical, and quiet. She had no Attitude, and she was easy to take seriously when she delivered a threat.

The Romance: And here is where Meg began to show weakness as a character. The "dashing Spanish courtier" whom Meg finds herself attracted to, Rafe, brings out the worst in her. I never did understand what Meg saw in him, because Rafe never came across as anything else but a flirt and a scoundrel. As far as Meg knows, he's an attractive Spanish spy who might mean Queen Elizabeth harm. So why does she go head-over-heels for him? Beats me. But whenever Rafe was around, Meg's spying ability began to slip, to the point where she was making stupid blunders for stupid reasons, and I started to doubt her prowess. However, as annoying as the romance is, it also isn't horribly prominent, and when Rafe isn't around Meg goes back to being awesome.

Plot: Ever since Meg's parents left her to her grandfather's care, she's been a member of the Golden Rose acting company. But she doesn't appear on the stage; Elizabethan England wouldn't allow it. Instead, Meg puts her acting skills to use circulating crowds and picking their pockets for a few extra coins to help feed the troupe. But one day Meg makes the mistake of picking the pocket of one William Cecil - Queen Elizabeth's adviser. When she's caught, Cecil offers her a choice: rot in the dungeon for all eternity and condemn the Golden Rose with her, or join the ranks of the Queen's female spies, her Maids of Honor. For the sake of the acting troupe, Meg agrees, and she enters the world of the royal court. Every Maid of Honor has their special talents, and Meg's is an ability to repeat any conversation after only hearing it once. So when a Spanish delegation arrives at court, Meg is assigned the task of listening in on their conversations, in the event that she uncovers a plot against the Queen. But Meg soon finds herself embroiled in more than one plot. The Queen is worried that there is a traitor in her midst, who is trying to undermine her authority. Meanwhile, William Cecil and Francis Walsingham, the Queen's own adviser and spy master, want Meg to spy on the Queen herself to ensure that she is not risking her throne for affairs of the heart. And then Meg discovers the terrible fate of the Maid of Honor she is replacing, and she worries that she may be the mysterious assassin's next target. Being pulled in so many directions, how can Meg know who to trust? It initially takes a little while for the plot to reach a point that actually becomes interesting, and sometimes it was difficult to remember who was demanding what from Meg. If you get confused by why everyone seems to be looking for these mysterious letters, have no fear - it does make sense in the end. A little less than halfway through, events that seemed unconnected start to make sense, and the Reader is immersed in political intrigue, mysterious sabotage, and murder.

Believability: I have no historical complaints to make in this area. Obviously there is no proof that Queen Elizabeth had a spy network of ladies, but it's possible, and the Author made it seem probable.

Writing Style: First person, past tense. I admit that I was rather surprised at how fitting of the era the narration and dialogue was. It added to the authenticity quite a bit.

Content: Other than some passionate kissing scenes, none.

Conclusion: Impatient with Meg's snowballing, Cecil and Walsingham give Meg only a few weeks to find out what she can about the Queen and the Spanish. With a possible murderer breathing down Meg's neck, she is walking a thin line and it may be too late already. The climax was much more exciting - and less cliche - than I thought it would be, with some surprising twists. I wasn't expecting the villain to be who it was, mostly because he wasn't in the story all that much and I sort of forgot about him. And he managed to monologue without falling into the ridiculous category. If the romance was more prominent in Maid of Secrets, it would have been an absolute fail. I still don't care for Rafe and I will never understand what Meg sees in him. But because Maid of Secrets focuses more on the political intrigue and the growing camaraderie between the Maids of Honor, it wasn't a fail and I actually really enjoyed it.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, fifteen-and-up, great for historical fiction and His Fair Assassin fans.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Stacking the Shelves #7

Stacking the Shelves is a meme hosted by Tynga's Review

From the Library:

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
Three thousand planet-bound years have fled since Ender Wiggin won humanity's war with the Buggers by totally destroying them. Ender remains young - travelling the stars at relativistic speeds, a hundred years or more might pass while he experiences a month-long voyage. In three thousand years, his books The Hive Queen and The Hegemon have become holy writ, and the name of Ender anathema; he is the Xenocide, the one who killed an entire race of thinking, feeling beings, the only other sapient race humankind had found in all the galaxy. The only ones, that is, until the planet called Lusitania was discovered and colonized.

On Lusitania humans found another race of ramen . . . a young race, beings just beginning to lift their eyes to the stars and wonder what might be out there. The discovery was seen as a gift to humanity, a chance to redeem the destruction of the Buggers. And the so the Pequininos, as they were named by the Portuguese-speaking settlers, the "Piggies," were placed off-limits to the colony. The only humans allowed to meet them and speak with them are trained xenobiologists, and then only two at a time. This time, there will be no tragic misunderstandings leading to war. This time . . .

This time, again, men die - bizarrely killed by the Piggies. Andrew Wiggin is called to Lusitania to Speak the deaths of the two xenobiologists, and walks into a maelstrom of fear and hatred. To Speak for these dead, he must first unravel the web of secrets surrounding the lives of the Piggies and those who study them. He must Speak not only for the dead, but for a living alien race.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: DiSemblance - Shanae Branham

A copy was provided by the Author
in exchange for
an honest review.
DiSemblance by Shanae Branham
Series: Hologram Series #1
Genre: YA, mystery, science fiction, thriller
Published on August 20, 2012
Published by CreateSpace
Pages: 369
Read From: 7.8.13 - 7.13.13

As a computer prodigy, Jason has spent his life with limited social contact due to his father's secretive work on a hologram machine that can create digital immortality. When his father is murdered and framed as the Comfort Killer, Jason is targeted as the killer's new fall guy. Having spent much of his youth living in the virtual world his father created, he must now go on the run if he is going to save himself, his brother, and the beautiful girl next door.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? My opinion of the cover art is somewhere in between. I like the whole descending mirrors and I don't even mind the character impersonator reflections. But there's almost something about the whole thing that kind of makes it feel bland. It just catches my interest, but only just.

Characters: I didn't dislike any of the characters, though my first impression of Isaac - Jason's brother - wasn't exactly favorable. There was something about Isaac that struck me as being a little mentally unstable. The sort of mentally unstable that can lead to becoming the villain in a story, not "he seems a little slow" mentally unstable. I re-read the part where Isaac is first introduced, to see if my impression changed after reading the book, and it didn't, even though I'm pretty sure that that's not the impression we Readers are supposed to get. Maybe it's because when we first meet Isaac he essentially traps Jason in the hologram room and puts him in the Sahara. Maybe it's because Isaac has been spying on Boston, their next-door female neighbor, and is constructing a holographic imagine of her. Just a bit weird and creepy, right? Or it's possible that it's just me, and that no one else will feel that way about Isaac, but that is how I felt about him and quite honestly, I still don't entirely trust Isaac. I don't really know why; I just don't. The other characters - Jason especially - didn't really make an impression me either way. They weren't cardboard; Jason had a very believable personality that made it easy for me to imagine meeting him in real life, and Boston was not nearly as useless and annoying as I first thought she might be upon reading the synopsis. But I personally didn't become all that emotionally attached to them, and that's just because I don't connect to "every day normal girl/guy" characters. Some Readers will find it very easy to like and understand Jason; others won't. I tried very hard to connect with Bruce, the police detective, but I couldn't see past his NCIS cop personality. There was also the fact that he had no personal struggles that I could relate to, either. Bruce's biggest struggle is balancing his work with his marriage life, and as a decidedly single 21-year-old, I couldn't connect with that.

The Romance: Jason and Boston have it for each other, naturally, but amazingly the romance actually isn't all that annoying. It's a bit rushed, but the book doesn't focus on it too much, and neither Jason nor Boston became utterly ridiculous around one another.

Plot: Jason's dad is a genius inventor, having built a real life - and working - version of the holodeck in Star Trek. People can enter it either physically or mentally and experience virtual reality like never before. But Jason's dad is super paranoid that someone will try and steal his invention, and so he has isolated him and his sons entirely from the world. Living in a house surrounded by the best security systems to ever be built, Jason isn't allowed to date, have friends outside of the family, and has never gone to a public or private school. Not that he's needed one; he was able to learn everything he needed at home, on the Internet, or with the holodeck. But when Jason's father is murdered and then implicated as the Comfort Killer - a serial killer who's been murdering terminally ill patients - Jason's world comes crashing down. He's forced to destroy his father's work and flee with his brother Isaac and the girl next door, Boston. Jason tries to discover who framed - and killed - his father and why, all with Detective Bruce Durante hot on his heels - and the person who might be responsible for everything that's happening to him. While I did not connect with the characters, the plot kept me engaged, which makes this book - in my eyes - more plot-driven than character-driven. But my opinion of the plot - or at least it's presentation - is as divided as my opinion of the cover art. The story itself is interesting. We have a serial killer who has framed the protagonist's dad for his crimes, and then killed him. And we have three teens on the run from the police and some mysterious person determined to catch and possibly murder them. Part of the story's revelations are told through Bruce's investigation. His superiors are convinced Jason has something to do with the murders, while Bruce is certain that there's much more to the whole thing than meets the eye. The problem I had with Bruce's chapters were 1)I got tired of reading about his marital problems, and 2)I couldn't shake the TV cop show feel, which caused the whole thing to feel cliche and a little cheap. And that, in turn, rather irritated me, because it wasn't cheap! The plot, as a whole, is interesting. There were lots of "what the heck" moments, which was both a good and bad reaction, and lots of good chase scenes. The Comfort Killer was an intriguing serial killer with a unique style (unless it's been done on a TV show, which is possible; I actually don't watch that may TV cop shows, so it felt unique to me). But there were times when the plot also got really confusing. At some point in the story, Jason is captured by the villains who are responsible for framing his dad, and then suddenly Jason is hallucinating. And then he's in a hospital, people are telling him that his brother and Boston died in a car crash, that he's mentally unstable, and then he's in a high speed car chase, and then the car is overturned and blows up, and then he's back at his house and . . . . Now it all does get explained in the end, and I knew what was going on about halfway through, but I still found it to be extremely confusing, to a point that often left my head spinning. So the presentation wasn't the best; I think the Author could have made things more clear while still keeping the "twist" secret.

Believability: Not wholly applicable.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. I did like that the Author changed the font every time Jason or someone else was in the holodeck; it helped clarify what was real and what wasn't. The writing style for the most part was fine, though it was at times difficult to follow (as stated previously).

Content: None.

Conclusion: The plot stopped being confusing once the climax came about, because things are explained and become coherent. There were a couple of aspects that seemed a little too simple for me [Spoiler] releasing the people from the holodeck by just making them realize they were dead seemed a bit too smooth, and Bruce just taking Jason and Isaac in like that too simple. There would be some legal complications [End spoiler], but I accepted them easily enough. So while DiSemblance did not strike a chord with me when it comes to characters, and the presentation was very difficult to follow at times, I did enjoy the plot itself. It was exciting, intriguing, and coupled the crime genre with science fiction in a very fun way.

Recommended Audience: Guy-read, sixteen-and-up, great for science fiction mystery fans.

Others in the Hologram Series:
2)Boston's Quest

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review: Doll Bones - Holly Black

Doll Bones by Holly Black
Genre: Middle Grade, supernatural
Published on May 7, 2013
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Pages: 247
Read From: 7.7.13 - 7.8.13

Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends forever. And for almost as long, they've been playing one continuous, ever-changing game - a game that takes place in a world populated with pirates and thieves, mermaids and warriors. Ruling over them all is the Great Queen, a bone-china doll imprisoned in a cabinet, cursing those who displease her. 
But the three friends are in middle school now, and Zach's father is pushing him to give up make-believe for basketball. When his father gives him no choice, Zach quits the game and lies about the reason. It seems like their friendship might be over, until Poppy declares she's been having dreams about the Queen - and the ghost of a girl who will not rest until her bone-china doll is buried in her empty grave. 
And so Zach and Alice and Poppy set off on one last adventure to lay the Queen's ghost to rest. But nothing goes according to plan, and as their adventure turns into an epic journey, creepy things begin to happen. Is the doll just a doll, or is there something more sinister at work? Has Poppy been telling the truth, or is she tricking them into playing a new game? And if there really is a ghost, will it let them go now that it has them in its clutches?


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? The cover is very creepy - dolls are disturbing! So in the case of this book, I totally judged it by its spooky cover. And I wasn't exactly disappointed; just not quite satisfied.

Characters: For a relatively short book, there is an amazing amount of character personality and development exploration. I found Zach and Poppy to be very sympathetic characters, as they both face growing up in their own ways. Zach is feeling the pressure of giving up make-believe from his dad and basketball peers, since make-believe is "solely for kids" and he's going from kid to teen. Meanwhile, Poppy is watching her two best friends grow up and she doesn't understand why they must give up the game along with it. All kids have faced this before, including me, and it makes it very easy to connect with Zach and Poppy's struggles. I didn't like Alice quite as much, and I think it's because I didn't see her struggle as clearly. She seemed to accept growing up pretty easily and was, quite honestly, a bit jerky and a wet blanket in this book.

The Romance: There's a mild crush between Zach and Alice, but it doesn't take center stage.

Plot: For most of their kid lives, Zach, Poppy, and Alice have played together, inventing wonderful lands and adventures. Presiding over their magical world of pirates and lost treasure is the Great Queen, an antique bone china doll who is all-powerful and dictates the characters' quests. But when Zach's dad throws out the figures that are Zach's characters in the game, Zach is forced to admit that he can no longer play the game. Unwilling to tell his friends the real reason why, because he then will have to face the truth himself, Zach claims he no longer wants to play. But one night Poppy tells her friends that the bone china doll has spoken to her, and claims to be possessed by the spirit of the girl whose ashes were used in the making of the doll's bone china. The Queen promises them no rest if they do not return her to her resting place. Together, the three friends set out on a road trip that doesn't turn out as smooth as it begins. All the while, Zach isn't sure he believes Poppy. Is she just weaving together another fantastic story to keep him and Alice playing? Or is the doll really alive with a malevolent spirit? Either way, he wants to see the quest to its end, if only to avoid the truth for just a little longer. So when I first picked up Doll Bones, I rather figured that it could go two ways: 1)it could be super spooky with a spirit-possessed doll, or 2)it could become an inspirational story about kids having to face growing up. It was something of a mixture of both, and I liked and kind of disliked it at the same time. Because I had struggled a bit with giving up kid games when I had to grow up, as I imagine most people do, I was able to appreciate the more inspirational part of this story than I normally would be. Growing up is both a tragedy and an adventure, bittersweet and unavoidable. I cried several times because I connected so fully to Zach and Poppy. But at the same time, when a story promises a spirit-possessed doll, one expects it to be creepy. And there were some spooky parts, as the Author offers hints that maybe Poppy isn't kidding her friends at all. But I also thought that it could have been a lot spookier, even while still being perfectly all right for middle graders to read. I expected more malevolence from the doll, and it just wasn't quite there.

Believability: Not applicable.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. I would have liked it if it had actually been in first person, from Zach's point of view, but I still enjoyed it in third. The style was nothing special nor was it bad. It was simplistic but enjoyable.

Content: None.

Conclusion: When the kids go on their journey, they go without their parents' knowledge. Alice's overbearing grandmother would never allow it, Poppy's workaholic mother doesn't really care, and Zach is too angry with his father to care what they think. So they are on borrowed time. Their funds are running low, Alice is a second away from turning back, and even Zach is beginning to lose faith in their quest. Of course, the Reader knows (in general) how it will all turn out. It's one of those stories where you can just tell pretty much from the beginning - and once you accept that the doll isn't really going to do anything bad to them or anyone. I found the end to be rather bittersweet. I liked that the Author never confirms whether or not the doll is actually a dead girl's spirit or if Poppy was fooling her friends the entire time, just to get one last good adventure out of them. And of course because growing up is unavoidable, it ends on the sad note that one simply must accept that it is going to happen. So Doll Bones wasn't exactly what I was expecting. I wasn't expecting to like the inspirational aspect and I wasn't expecting the supernatural aspect to be so benign. Did it disappoint? Not exactly. It was a good weekend read - and anyway, dolls are creepy in any situation, so how can you go wrong?

Recommended Audience: Girl-and-guy read, really any age. This is one of those middle grade books that adults will enjoy more than the intended age group. Good for fans of inspirational middle grade reads and people who find dolls creepy.